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Dozens of arrests reported in central Syria

BEIRUT — The Syrian government said Monday that it had arrested dozens of people in a central Syrian region that has become a flashpoint in fighting between defectors and security forces waging a brutal crackdown on a six-month uprising.

The military said this weekend that it had retaken Rastan, a restive town on the corridor between Homs and Hama, two of Syria’s largest cities. It reportedly deployed more forces Monday in Talbiseh, near Homs, another town that has defied government authority for months in a revolt that has shaken the four-decade rule of the Assad family. Since the summer, residents say, both Rastan and Talbiseh have appeared virtually occupied, with tanks and soldiers guarding the towns’ entrances.

“The defectors were the main reason behind the war on Rastan,” said a resident there who gave his name as Hassan. “Only women were allowed to leave their homes. The men were detained immediately.” Though he was unable to give an estimate on the number detained, the Syrian news agency SANA said arrests numbered “in the dozens.”

—Anthony Shadid, The New York Times

Report on Medicare cites prescription drug abuse

WASHINGTON — Medicare is subsidizing drug abuse by thousands of beneficiaries who shop around for doctors and fill prescriptions for huge quantities of painkillers and other narcotics far exceeding what any patient could safely use, congressional investigators say in a new report.

The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said Medicare officials had been slow to recognize and act on the evidence of abuse, which is to be presented at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

“Our analysis found that about 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more medical practitioners” for 14 types of drugs that are frequently abused, said Gregory D. Kutz, director of audits and special investigations at the accounting office.

The medications were obtained through Part D of Medicare, which provides coverage for prescription drugs. The drugs most commonly abused by Medicare beneficiaries included powerful prescription painkillers like oxycodones and hydrocodone products. Oxycodones include OxyContin and Percocet.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said: “Federal dollars intended to address the health needs of the elderly and the poor are instead being used to feed addictions or to pad the wallets of drug dealers. This is clearly unacceptable.”

Carper called the hearing as chairman of a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.

—Robert Pear, The New York Times

4th Tibetan monk self-immolates in anti-China protest

BEIJING — A young Tibetan monk set himself on fire Monday in a remote western town to protest Chinese policies — the fourth monk from Kirti Monastery to self-immolate this year, according to a Tibet advocacy group based in London.

The group, Free Tibet, said in a news release that the monk, Kalsang, set himself ablaze at 2 p.m. in a vegetable market in the town of Aba, known in Tibetan as Ngaba. Kalsang was holding a picture of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled religious leader, at the time and called for religious freedom, the group said. Security officers extinguished the flames. the group said, but the monk’s condition was unclear.

Free Tibet did not specify the sources of its information. There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials, and no mention of the self-immolation in China’s state-run press.

—Edward Wong, The New York Times